I’ve watched more football at Washington, DC’s RFK Stadium than anywhere else in the world. Going to high school in Virginia, I regularly made the pilgrimage to Southeast DC for DC United, the USMNT and the 1996 Olympic Games. RFK holds a special spot in my heart. It doesn’t look like much, but it has inner-beauty.
So last week, when Rog presented me with the chance to play on the stadium’s hallowed turf in the U.S. Soccer Foundation's Capital Soccer Classic, I jumped at it. The annual game pits Republican and Democratic members of Congress against one another, with soccer legends, sponsors and, this year, one suboptimal producer sprinkled in to round out the teams.
I’d like to think my game combines David Silva’s height (lacking), Eden Hazard’s lower half (ample), and Peter Crouch’s first touch (second touch is always a 50-50 ball), so I was thrilled to see myself placed alongside Heather Mitts and Ben Olsen on the Dems squad. Having two American legends do the heavy lifting would alleviate some of the pressure of playing against a Republican team that included Cobi Jones, Lori Lindsey and… THE Rob Stone.
My team’s coach/organizer was apparently not too taken with my warm-up routine, which consisted solely of keepie uppies. I started on the bench. But roughly 10 minutes into the match, I got the call (Not me, specifically. Our side had about 20 people, so our substitution strategy was changing the entire team at once.)
With the ball out for a throw in, I trod onto what I must say was an immaculate playing surface at RFK and took my spot at right back/right center back. The game wasn’t much for tactics or “positions,” but I like to think I was in the Dave Azpilicueta role.
I wanted to get a touch immediately to settle the nerves. And after a minute of jogging around aimlessly, I got my chance. The ball broke to me out on the right. Under virtually no pressure from the opposition, I took timid, but not terrible, first touch and looked up to assess my options. Lord knows I wasn’t going long ball right away, so I gave a quick look to my left, hoping for a simple option. And there it was, in USA Legend form. A player with 90 USMNT caps. An early American Premier League trailblazer. And a gent to whom, as a 12-year-old, I wrote a letter requesting a signed photo while he was at Derby County. The one and only, John Harkes.
I did a double take, played it square, and tried to contain my excitement at completing a 10-yard pass to one of my childhood heroes. To do it in the stadium of my boyhood club was a surreal feeling, even during a charity game. No matter what happened after that, it was going to be a great night, regardless of what the post-game Opta facts said about my performance.
Thanks to U.S. Soccer Foundation for the opportunity, and for all they do to bring football to underserved communities in this country. To the still lightning quick Cobi Jones for staying on the left side of the field, so I wouldn’t have to mark him. And to the amazing, amazing GFOPs (including my dad, who snapped the above pic), who came out in the rain to watch. #Grateful